Writing the City

Writing the City The Arts House National Arts Council spacer British Council

Continuing from the Past
By carolsim

About this piece
Memories of Chinatown in the 1960s triggered by a Chinese pop song led to my personal reflections on the changes in our city skyline and its impact on our life styles and how we need to move on in life, never knowing if the choices we made were right or wrong.

Continuing from the past

Mosque Street

“水长流, 一去不回头”
“Shui chang liu, yi qu bu hui tou ”

How apt – whenever I think of where I was born and spent my childhood – Mosque Street in Chinatown, I think of this Chinese song from the 1960s. My earliest memories from when I was 2 or 3 included this song “Water flowing continuously … the past will not return …” being blasted over the Rediffusion – the then prevailing broadcast channel where pop songs and Silly Mr Lee (李大傻) ruled the air waves.

My grandfather, a customs officer (a respectable post then), was given a ground floor unit on Mosque Street – himself, my grandmother, their 5 sons, 3 daughters, a daughter-in-law (my mum) and 2 grandchildren (my sister and I) lived in these 3 bedrooms, 1 living room, 1 kitchen, 1 toilet and a big open-air courtyard – luxurious space for 13 compared to the family of 8 in the rented 1-room unit above my Grandpa’s.

I had 3 favoured spots in Grandpa’s house.

The first is the front door — kept opened until my Grandpa went to bed at night! After all, the friendly five-foot way was just outside the door, where neighbours were known by names. To our left were a leather shop, a sundry shop; to our right a coffee shop, a shoe shop and other businesses that escaped my memory now.

My second favoured hangout was the open-air courtyard — a square yard, exposed to the elements, with one side facing a bedroom, another side facing the living room, the third side opened to the kitchen, and the fourth side was a back door leading to the back alley. This yard was where my mum washed clothes, the men of the family bathed (in their shorts) from vats of collected rain water, my Grandma mahjonged with her “kakis” in good weather and where we children played catching, hide-and-seek, 5 stones, chatek.

My third favoured haunt was the back alley, a forbidden fruit as children were not allowed there without supervision, and on occasions when we were permitted to play there, it was mayhem time!

Shops opposite us were a mahjong hall where some relatives wasted their time, a timsum restaurant where family wedding dinners were held, a hairdressing saloon where my father met my mother (but that is another story).

Today the block and unit still stand, but the homes are replaced by new funky restaurants and boutique shops. Gone are the smell, the noise, the friendly openness of neighbours who knew each other well.

History and future, heritage and progress, past and continuity (embodying present and future) –so intertwined there is no room for regrets, be it in the area of building preservation or our lives. Even if the right decisions were not made in preserving our heritage or in personal choices, life goes on and we continue to live … bravely, I hope – “Shui chang liu, yi qu bu hui tou”.

July 1, 2011

3 Responses to “Continuing from the Past”

  1. Love the photos and the memories.

  2. Thanks for sharing these precious memories. After reading your piece, tt makes me feel that it is important to hold on to some aspects of our past in order to move forward.

  3. Thank you for your comments, I too remembered much of the past as I was writing the piece, and was surprisingly refreshed after writing …

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